The 10th Anniversary of the European Centre For Minority Issues (ECMI)
Remarks by Alyson J.K. Bailes, Director,
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Flensburg, 4 December 2006
In thinking about the language to use for these remarks I felt it would only be symbolically correct to use both the languages of the countries who created ECMI, or neither—so I hope it is acceptable that I end up speaking English. That will also symbolize the fact that I am here as a voice from the international community of peace and security research—from my own institute, SIPRI, and from the academic advisory Board of ECMI; and even if I am not an expert on minorities myself, one thing I can try to do is to put the work of the ECMI in this broader intellectual and policy context. What is the connection between minorities and peace, or between minorities research and peace research for that matter?
I could start by noting that when I arrived at Sønderborg airport and drove across the Danish-German border last night, the driver hardly even needed to slow down. Instead of military defence, and watchtowers, the frontier crossing was marked by supermarkets and Christmas trees. Perhaps also symbolic was the fact that the taxi driver appeared to come from Pakistan, which would make him a member of one of the largest minorities in my own country. This all reflects the reality of a Europe that is both integrated and globalized: and while our own continent may have gone exceptionally far in that direction, the trend in much larger parts of the world as well is for peace and security today to be much less about frontiers and about state armies confronting each other across them. The great majority of today’s serious conflicts are conflicts within frontiers—internal conflicts—and I would argue that the connection between minorities and peace is in the same way becoming less of an external or inter-state matter and much more of an internal one. In the old days nations might go to war to possess (or re-possess) territories inhabited by minorities, or to protect minorities on someone else’s soil, or of course minorities might go to war hoping to create their own new frontiers by achieving full independence. While those kinds of problems have not entirely left us—it’s enough to mention Kosovo or Iraq!—I would suggest that most minority issues today are about relationships, including dividing lines, within societies: how to delineate a minority clearly enough that it can enjoy appropriate recognition and rights, but not to cut it off or separate it in a way that stops its members playing their due part in the politics, economics and culture of the larger national society, and indeed in international society as a whole.
The USA’s National Security Strategy of 2002 defined terrorism as arising at the intersection of fanaticism and high technology. With a similar phrase we might talk of today’s minorities issues arising at the intersection of identity and governance. If those factors aren’t in proper balance or if one or both of them is dysfunctional—if different identities within the state are aggressive and incompatible or if the governance system fails to achieve peaceful coexistence based on equal rights—then human rights, human welfare and peace are obviously going to suffer, but the whole state and society will be weakened as well. Indeed, this is one of the ways in which so-called ‘weak states’ are created. Such a state is unlikely to be accepted for closer multilateral integration with its neighbours or if it is already within some larger regional organization, its own problems will risk infecting the whole. Conversely, if a country is at peace with its minorities and encourages them to take an active role in governance, not only will it enjoy better internal security but it should have more talents and assets to draw upon for peaceful international competition and security-building, not least because of the lessons it should be able to offer to others.
It is clear, therefore, to me as a security specialist why minority issues deserve and need to be studied, and why there is much practical work of advice and security-building to be done out in the field by those who understand the issue. But what priority should this topic be given, at a time when the whole agenda of peace and security studies has been in some danger of being dominated by the one great threat of terrorism, and by concerns about the other kinds of social divisions—mostly religious and ideological ones—that are most closely linked with terrorist phenomena? At SIPRI we are always inclined to be mistrustful of intellectual fashions like those related to terrorism and proliferation that have demanded so much attention (and soaked up so much funding) since 9/11. The dictates of fashion by definition are excessive and unbalanced, often eccentric and generally short-lived. The fact is that ethnic divisions with no particular terrorist or religious angle are still driving a number of open armed conflicts, especially in Africa. Even if you think of the Iraq case, the factor that would most likely to lead to an internationalizing of the violence would be a complete breakaway by the Kurdish population in the North, rather than anything that might happen between the Sunni and Shi’ite elements of the Arab population.
But for us as Europeans, perhaps most important and convincing argument of all is the importance of national minority issues for peace and security on our own borders and in our own extended European region. Whether they arise in the East Baltic, the Balkans or the Western part of the former Soviet Union, these issues are linked to risks of conflict that would directly affect our own territory if only through refugee flows and economic disruption. They appeal directly to our European consciences and sense of responsibility; and they need solutions for which our own experience can offer at least a partial set of lessons. They are also part of the challenges within the larger evolution of our distinctly European integration policy: the only stable future for the Balkans is to come fully inside our integrated institutions (as NATO recognized with its new offers last week to certain former Yugoslav states and Albania), while the challenge for states like Georgia and Moldova is that no other model than the democratic and integrated European one can have a hope of solving their problems, even if their own hopes of actual membership still look rather remote. It is surely no accident that the ECMI’s activity is at present heavily focussed on these particular areas of the European neighbourhood, and in my judgement is needs to be and will probably need to be for quite a while to come.
Looking to the future, though, what I’d like to stress is that all of us including ECMI have to be prepared for further dynamic changes. The agenda of the integration process never stands still; the focus of political and social reforms is constantly evolving and maturing rather than stopping short at some rigid final model; and I can assure you that the security agenda is developing perhaps fastest of all. Where yesterday minorities were linked with traditional wars and today they come into the frame of internal conflict, conflict resolution and security sector reform, tomorrow they will come in contact with a much broader emerging agenda of human security that focuses on things like fighting epidemic disease; natural disasters, degradation of the environment and climate change; crime and smuggling and other threats to local law and order; and perhaps not least, the impact on social and economic stability of major demographic shifts by no means just linked to immigration. The standards by which we measure the fair treatment and the equal empowerment of minority citizens seem bound to evolve accordingly. In the old days we might ask if minorities could provide officers in the armed forces; now we might ask if they can provide their own members of the police as well as their own politicians and teachers; in a few years we may be asking if they have equal access to stocks of bird ‘flu vaccine, or if they have their own adequate first aid and rescue services, or if businesses in minority areas are properly briefed on how to guard against technology theft and cyber-crime, smuggling and terrorist money-laundering. As we can all see already, the more the international security agenda becomes internal and intrudes down to the very individual level in our own societies, the more we have to be on our guard against measures taken in the name of security starting to intrude on our human and civil rights and indeed our human dignity. It should go without saying that we need to be exceptionally sensitive to the treatment of ethnic minorities in that context as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, as head of a peace research institute I face many of the same challenges as ECMI has to face both at the strategic and the day-to-day working level. We both have to balance the demand for analytical work of high academic value with making a practical contribution to the shaping of solutions out in the real world. We both have to balance objectivity with a passion for the truth and the higher principles, and we have to think about how to make sure that our own behaviour reflects and conveys—to everyone concerned— the same values of tolerance, understanding, peace and security building that we advocate in our written work. It is certainly not an easy job! It needs proper financial support not least so that it can use the best possible human resources, and it also needs moral support, recognition and encouragement. I am here today to extend that support wholeheartedly to ECMI with my warmest anniversary congratulations on behalf of myself and everyone at SIPRI and the advisory board. I congratulate the Centre on a distinguished first decade and I wish it many more years and decades of successful work in the future!